Tag Archives: Power Pop

Mixtape! Pop’s Out In The Garage Again!

I guess I must have been playing my Sparks albums a lot at the time, given the pun-laden titles for the cassette sides. Oh the folly of innocent youth



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Under The Radar: The Modulators

The Modulators were a Jersey pop band that created some buzz in the 80’s; fortunate fans might have seen them ripping up the Tri-State clubs or even appearing on Uncle Floyd. Jangling guitars, big pop hooks and solid harmonies must have wowed the fans who likely wondered why they never launched into the major leagues. It sure wasn’t lack of talent…

Video: “Spin Me Around

Definitely some Shoes DNA in that one, although with more energy; I was immediately reminded of The Producers. There’s a little of The Jam in “Own Little World” and  “If You Let Her Go” is a mashup of The Grass Roots and The Turtles. Many of the tracks are matted under that thin 80’s production, but for a 1984 album and a handful of outtakes it sounds very clean. Some of the production choices sound a little dated and  there’s a synth clouding a solid cover of “My Back Pages“, but when songs are as infectiously hummable as “Rainy Day Girl” or lyrically clever as “Lies” (Buddy Holly fans, take note), so what?

Like many powerpop bands who never got past the regional stage in their heyday, the Internet and pop festivals like IPO are helping to get them more exposure. And when you can still sound great a quarter century later…

Listen to some clips on Amazon

Buy Tomorrow’s Coming at Kool Kat Musik

The Modulators website and MySpace site.

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Blast From The Past: Jason Falkner

Another blind shelf grab found me enjoying the music of one of the under-known pop masters, Jason Falkner. I’ve got his solo work, his Beatles lullabies, the Jellyfish canon…can’t get enough of the guy’s talent. But damned if one out of twenty people I know even recognizes his name. Here’s a look back from the turn of the century and TransAction Magazine

TransAction Magazine

Can You Still Feel?

The knock on ex-Gray, ex-Jellyfish Falkner is that (besides apparently not being able to stay in a band) for all his melodic chops he is incapable of writing a song that’s simple enough to be easily memorable – in other words, the Big Hit Single. So what is he supposed to do, dumb down?

Besides playing and singing and writing and arranging everything, he also took the time to craft a boatload of great music that will nudge you at first listen, yet worm its way deeper with repeated listenings. “Eloquence“, which he had been performing live for a while, is reminiscent of John Lennon and could be radio fodder with a more spry arrangement.  Ditto “Holiday“, where Falkner gets the chance to show off his vocal acrobatics. “Author Unknown” (ironically the title of his previous record) has a great repetitive chorus and the double-time tempo at the end is a great touch.

If a band like Radiohead can conquer the planet with their adventurous, textured sounds and pensive wordplay, why not Falkner?

Listen to clips and buy at Amazon

Video: Author Unknown

Jason Falkner website

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Mixtape! Back To Schooldays

The good Doc knows the A-B-Cs of pop music; this was one of the first tape swap mixes I made for Son Of Tape Tree (a/k/a/ SOTT), a tradition which is in its thirteenth or fourteenth year. We’re down from one every two months to once a year despite the ability to dub CDs much faster and cheaper than C-90s! Title obviously stolen from a great Graham Parker song.

Video: Graham Parker, Back To Schooldays

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Screen Test

As more and more obscure pop bands from the 70s and 80s resurface and issue CD anthologies, I’ve started to realize that it wasn’t just a few or us who watched a couple of great local bands wither and die in our area code while corporate rock radio kept belching out the same overhyped crap. Sure, there were a slew of one and two hit wonders in the post-punk and new wave eras, but that was when labels still had a gazillion dollars to toss around. Soon, when things got tighter, labels would just descend on a city with a buzz (i.e. Seattle) and milk it dry; a precision military attack as opposed to the carpet bombing they were used to.

The Flashcubes fell victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when guitarist Paul Armstrong left to form The Most and 1.4.5, the three remaining members carried on as Screen Test. While more of an overt pop band that the ‘Cubes, they were still a powerful presence. Drummer Tommy Allen – as good as there is then or now – locked in with Gary Frenay’s flavorful bass playing to free Arty Lenin to be an absolute alchemist on guitar. Bolstered by two strong songwriters, Screen Test seemed even more primed for success than the Flashcubes and even landed a video on MTV’s Basement Tapes, but alas, it was not to be. After a few years Allen moved to Manhattan and found success as a producer and a touring drummer; Frenay and Lenin remained in Syracuse where they still perform together (in groups and as a duo) to this day.

But a Japanese market hungry for the lost magic found The Flashcubes a decade ago, and the reunited band got to live out what should have happened the first time – screaming crowds, a performance at Budokan and eventually the album they never got to make. So if the incredible three-set gauntlet that Screen Test threw down last weekend – their first performance in six years – maybe fate will smile kindly upon them as well and give them the exposure and respect beyond their local following and cassette EPs.

Obviously words don’t conjure sound, but the band had a treasure trove of should-been hit singles that still sound fresh and vital today. “Anytime”, “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young”, “Sound of The Radio”, “Restless”, “Suellen”, “Make Something Happen”, “It’s No Secret“…any of these and more should have been blasting out of radios in the early 80s. I still feel the same way after hearing them launched from the stage of a neighborhood bar over a quarter century later. If YouTube was around in the early 80s, I wouldn’t have to tell you about the band because you would already have their albums.

Like The Flashcubes, Screen Test’s first full-length was an anthology of singles and EP tracks, an instant collector’s item. So perhaps the band will follow suit, feed off the energy of that Friday night in August and decide to record again. After three long sets of originals and choice powerpop chestnuts, I know I wasn’t the only one who saw a band far too vital to limit itself to reunions. aybe you know a band like this, too. Maybe your band already took the plunge.

Here’s hoping Screen Test gets that long-overdue callback.

Video: “Anytime

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